Artist Mums need not apply

A few years ago I was shortlisted for interview for a year long artist residency in the United Kingdom which would have been occupied by myself alone, working in the provided studio during the day. I was a new mum, my baby of which would be 8 months old by the time the residency started. The residency offered a healthy artist fee which would have provided well for myself and family, far better than the meagre income I had lined up through freelance work as an artist.

When I was shortlisted, I received an email inviting me for interview. As part of the process, the candidates would stay overnight for the interview and tour of the grounds/facilities. As I was breastfeeding at the time, that wasn’t possible. I replied to the email explaining the situation and stated that I would pay for my own return train ticket at the end of the first day and would be present first thing the following day. Feeding my son, therefore, wouldn’t impact on the interview process at all.

Within 5 minutes I received a phone call from the director of the program. The first words I heard beyond “hello” were, “you didn’t say on your application that you had a baby”. Of course there wasn’t anywhere within the application where mentioning this would have been appropriate. Frankly, it wasn’t any of their business. As mentioned, my baby would have been 8 months old and in nursery. He would have had to have been in nursery for the residency or any other paying work. The cost for that would be mine, of course and as long as I was in residence or in other words, doing the work that I was “hired” to do during the required hours, then baby or no baby – the result would be the same. I politely stated all of this – adding that I had a very supportive husband at home, trying to assure him that our baby wouldn’t impact on the result of the residency. Sadly, it fell on deaf ears with him boldly stating “I just don’t see how you could manage both.” At that point I asked if he wanted me to pull out of the interview which he reluctantly declined. However, when I did turn up for the interview, he took me for a quiet word before meeting the selection panel, telling me that he’d informed them of my personal situation. Going into that interview situation, I could not have felt more unfavourably judged for having the audacity of wanting to continue with my art career and simultaneously provide for my family. Spoiler alert: I didn’t get the residency.

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